The “real” snowbirds



Each autumn and winter millions of northerners across North America make the pilgrimage to points south, primarily Florida and Arizona, to escape the snow and cold. Similarly, flocks of birds migrate southward for the winter from their summer nesting grounds.

One species of bird that migrates is particularly hardy. It doesn’t fly south from the Arctic tundra to Florida, the Caribbean, or Latin America. Instead, the Dark-eyed Junco flies from its chilly summer nests to the not-so-balmy winters of Michigan, Ontario, and surrounding regions. Sure, some will travel further south, but it’s the brave ones that hang around here that impress me. Just this week, they arrived here in Mid-Michigan for there six month “retreat” from polar cold.

I find this little birds quite amazing. It’s not like they are blessed with loads of extra fluffy feathers, but they still manage to survive year after year with temperatures rarely rising above “warm” in their summer habitat and more often downright cold.

If you happen to notice small, gray birds on the ground below your feeder, or see their gray and white tail-feathers flitter away as you approach on a trail, smile and remember how the hard Dark-eyed Junco is one of our best gifts from nature each winter. Cheers!

Posted in Animals, Canada, entertainment, environment, fun, geography, nature, North America, Science, Travel, weather, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ten planning lessons from Victoria, British Columbia


Provincial capitol

My wife and I had the great pleasure of visiting gorgeous Victoria, British Columbia for five days last month. After some time for reflection, here is my list of ten planning lessons learned from this magnificent city. If there ever were a clear example of a livable city, in North America, Victoria is certainly it.

The e planning lessons are presented in no particular order of importance.

  • A city focused on its waterfront and on waterborne transportation (water taxis, ferries, seaplanes, etc.) can be very intoxicating and vibrant.
  • Linking nature and outdoor recreational opportunities such as kayaking and bicycling with the urban environment is a tremendous way to enhance (as well as explore) a city.
  • Swanky food establishments and prototypical chains never reflect the gastronomical heart and soul of a city like its eccentric local hangouts – Red Fish, Blue Fish on Victoria’s Wharf, for example, takes exceptional dining to a whole new level of uniqueness.
  • Cherish/preserve your local history, including natural and built, as well as Native and immigrant.
  • Blending many diverse cultures is an amazing economic development and tourism tool.
  • You don’t need to chop up a city with ugly freeways.
  • Great architecture and urban design always (ALWAYS) trumps utilitarianism.
  • A stratospheric skyline is not necessary to make a city dynamic, cool, exciting, and hip.
  • Even the most scarred terrain (limestone quarries in this case) can be transformed into beautiful amenities with time and tender loving care.
One of many water taxis scurrying about Victoria's harbour

One of many water taxis scurrying about Victoria’s harbour

Red Fish, Blue Fish on Victoria's wharf

Red Fish, Blue Fish on Victoria’s wharf


Harbour scene at dusk

Posted in Active transportation, adaptive reuse, Advocacy, Alternative transportation, architecture, art, aviation, bicycling, Canada, Cars, cities, civics, commerce, culture, diversity, downtown, economic development, entertainment, entrepreneurship, environment, fun, geography, hiking, historic preservation, history, inclusiveness, land use, landscape architecture, nature, North America, pictures, placemaking, planning, recreation, skylines, spatial design, sustainability, tourism, trails, transit, transportation, Travel, urban planning, walking, zoning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Geography of advanced degrees in the USA (2013)

This fascinating chart from depicts those large metropolitan areas in the United States with the highest percentage of advanced degrees (masters or Ph.D) in 2013. Of particular interest in the growth in many Northern and Western cities and the corresponding drop in the Southern parts of the country.

The largest increases took place in Indianapolis and Providence (+15 places each), Cleveland (+12 places), Sacramento (+10 places), and Kansas City (+9 places). Meanwhile the largest decreases occurred in Atlanta, Nashville and Tampa (-12 places each) and Austin and San Diego (-9 places each).



Posted in aerospace, Alternative energy, Alternative transportation, architecture, aviation, cities, colleges, economic development, economic gardening, economics, Economy, education, entrepreneurship, environment, geography, Health care, infrastructure, North America, planning, Renewable Energy, Statistics, technology, urban planning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scaling 8,144 foot Green Mountain in Boulder, Colorado

Enjoying the view from atop Green Mountain

Enjoying the view from atop beautiful Green Mountain

Last Saturday (October 11th), just 12 hours after arriving from Michigan, we undertook an arduous hike to the top of Green Mountain, Colorado. The weather forecast was poor for Sunday, so Saturday was our best opportunity to enjoy the splendid beauty of Colorado.


Green Mountain – Source:

At 8,144 feet, Green Mountain is a majestic peak located just southwest of Boulder. It offers stunning views of the Great Plains to the east, Denver to the Southeast, the Rocky Mountains to the west, and of Boulder to the northeast which are hard to beat (see photos). A brass plate topographical guide of the Rockies is provided on top of the cairn to reward those who complete the climb.

All told, the trip took three hours to scale the peak from Chautauqua National Historic Landmark, following the Baseline, Gregory Canyon, and Ranger Trails and then another three hours carefully climbing back down the Greenman, Saddle Rock, and Amphitheater Trails through rugged terrain, areas washed out by flooding in 2013, and past numerous piles of black bear scat.  The total elevation change our six-hour hike was approximately 5,600 feet.

Here are a few photos of the journey. Enjoy!


The Flatirons from along the Baseline Trail



A view of Boulder



The Rockies


Brass plate geographical guide on top of the cairn at the peak of Green Mountain

Brass plate topographical guide on top of the cairn at the peak of Green Mountain

A rain shower on the plains

A rain shower on the plains

Heading back down

Heading back down

Scaling a washout from the 2013 floods

Scaling a washout from the 2013 floods

Within the amphitheater

Within the amphitheater

Another view

Another rocky view

Back at Chautauqua

Back at Chautauqua at dusk


Posted in Active transportation, Alternative transportation, Animals, cities, entertainment, environment, fitness, fun, geography, Geology, health, hiking, historic preservation, history, land use, landscape architecture, logistics, Maps, pictures, placemaking, recreation, Statistics, sustainability, tourism, Travel, walking, weather, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cities with all the vowels



Here’s my list of cities whose name contains all five of the vowels (a, e, i, o, u) in the Latin/Roman alphabet. A couple of interesting findings among the list:

  • The majority of city names with all the vowels consist of multiple words.
  • Six cities were found to contain all five vowels in a one word name – these are highlighted in bold.
  • If you included “y” as a vowel, only three of the cities on the list would remain (two are located in France and one in Saudi Arabia. These are shown in italics.
  • City names with “Mountain” included in it appears to have the best chance of including all five vowels in the USA – four such cities are listed.
  • The largest cities whose name contains all five vowels are both Spanish in origin: Ciudad de Mexico (Mexico City), Mexico and Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Any additions are most welcome, but please limit them to cities of at least 10,000 residents. Cheers!

  • Ain Oussera, Algeria
  • Ain Temouchent, Algeria
  • Alexandroupoli, Greece
  • Apache Junction, AZ, USA
  • Baie-Comeau, QC, Canada
  • Berrouaghia, Algeria
  • Boulogne-Billancourt, France
  • Boumhelel-Bassatine, Tunisia
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Castro-Urdiales,aspain
  • Ciudad Madero, Mexico
  • Ciudad de Mexico, Mexico
  • Cote-Saint-Luc, QC, Canada
  • Dogubeyazit, Turkey
  • Donaueschingen, Germany
  • Essaouira, Morocco
  • Fountenay-sous-Bois, France
  • Guidonia Montecelio, Italy
  • Hasbrouck Heights, NJ, USA
  • Huntington Beach, CA USA
  • Inezgane Ait Melloul, Morocco
  • Issy-les-Moulineaux, France
  • King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia
  • Mediouna, Morocco
  • Menzel Bourguiba, Tunisia
  • Modiin-Maccabinn-Reut, Israel
  • Mogi das Cruzes, Brazil
  • Mountain Grove, MO, USA
  • Mountain Home, AR and ID, USA
  • Mountain View, CA, USA
  • Oued Zenati, Algeria
  • Pedro Aguirre Cerda, Chile
  • Port-au-Prince, Haiti
  • Port Saint Lucie, FL, USA
  • Runeil-Malmaison, France
  • Quince Orchard, MD, USA
  • Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville, QC, Canada
  • Saint-Laurentidu-Maroni, France
  • Saint-Maur-des-Fosses, France
  • Six-Fours-les-Plages, France
  • South Padre Island, TX, USA
  • Stone Mountain, GA, USA
  • Sunrise Manor, NV, USA
  • Upper Arlington, OH, USA
  • Washington Court House, OH, USA
  • West Columbia, SC, USA
Posted in Africa, Canada, cities, civics, Communications, culture, entertainment, Europe, fun, geography, government, history, Language, North America, placemaking, South America, States, Statistics, tourism, Travel, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bangkok to join the 2,000 foot skyscraper club



Bangkok is about to join the mega-skyscraper club with a 125 story, 2018 foot tall tower planned for completion in 2019.



Posted in architecture, Asia, cities, commerce, geography, land use, planning, product design, skyscrapers, spatial design, Statistics, urban planning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Climatopolis” isn’t “Hot” enough to evoke change



I was looking forward to reading Climatopolis, by author Matthew Kahn, as its title hinted at the eye-opening and daunting challenges facing society that I found previously while reading the superb book, Hot, Living Through the Next 50 Years on Earth by Mark Hertsgaard. Unfortunately, where Hot is a very personalized call to action, Climatopolis ultimately sinks under the weight of economic theorem overload.  As an environmentalist and resident of this planet who is very concerned about topics such as global warming and climate change, I really wanted to like this book. Climatopolis seemed to just touch the surface of the problem and largely remained impersonal and detached in its description of the dramatic threats on the horizon.



The economic theory that certain cities and nations will benefit dramatically from climate change while others suffer tragically is a logical concept. But, just stating that in a myriad of different ways doesn’t build empathy amongst the readers, thus failing to lead them into a call for action. Instead, this tends to dull the pain, so to speak, by essentially implying; “Don’t worry, be happy. Let the macro-economics sort themselves out naturally and everything will be just fine.” This approach sounds akin to some sort of ‘ostrich economics’ to me – bury your head in the sand and hope for the best. Heaven knows climate change deniers already utilize that approach when it comes to facing reality.

Whereas the book Hot did a magnificent job of bringing global warming and climate change right into your personal space, Climatopolis stays far too impersonal to evoke the necessary action on the general public’s part. Without societal consensus, our politicians will continue to debate as we sink deeper and deeper into the abyss. If this is how economics and capitalism are supposed to work, no thank you.

Posted in Alternative energy, art, book reviews, books, cities, civics, civility, climate change, commerce, Communications, culture, economics, Economy, energy, entertainment, environment, geography, globalization, government, history, humanity, literature, planning, politics, pollution, Renewable Energy, Science, sustainability, Uncategorized, urban planning, weather, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment